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‘Big Four’ evolves to Novak and ‘Next 4’

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TENNIS – There no longer appears to be a “Big Four” of men’s tennis. It’s more like the “King and the Next Four” now that the first Grand Slam of the year is history. Obviously, Novak Djokovic is the best player in the game at the moment. Of course, that could change in a one-month span in early summer. By James Beck

 

There no longer appears to be a “Big Four” of men’s tennis.

It’s more like the “King and the Next Four” now that the first Grand Slam of the year is history.

Obviously, Novak Djokovic is the best player in the game at the moment. Of course, that could change in a one-month span in early summer.

Murray And Nadal Almost Back

The most significant occurrences in this Australian Open other than Djokovic’s march to his fifth title Down Under and fourth in the last five years, and Roger Federer’s early departure, were the reemmergences of Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal at the top of their games, if only for a couple of matches in Nadal’s case.

Neither Nadal or Murray won the tournament, and both suffered embarrassing 6-0 setbacks, but it was the flashes of brillance that both demonstrated in their defeats that impressed me. Those efforts make me believe that both Nadal and Murray are near full recovery to their former levels of play, prior to Murray’s back surgery two years ago and Nadal’s recent long layoff due to injury and health issues.

Murray was superb for much of his long four-set final against Djokovic. The Scotsman just needs to develop his game so he can sustain consistency when he goes for winners. He committed too many errors on what should have been winners to open courts against Djokovic. Novak was able to out-defense Murray, and come up with the big groundstroke more consistently than Murray.

Novak Will Be Difficult To Catch

Djokovic is at a place where it will be difficult for anyone to catch him. But Nadal and Murray might be the best bests to accomplish that task. And don’t forget Stan Wawrinska, possibly the most dangerous player in the game. When Wawrinska is on, he is probably more dominant and dangerous than anyone in the game, including Djokovic.

Federer still has some big moments left in his career, although they may not include another Grand Slam title. Right now, I see Federer as the fifth-best player in the game, the last member of the “Next Four.”

Tomas Berdych may have dominated Nadal much of their quarterfinal, but the vanilla-like play of Berdych may never earn a Grand Slam title. He’s not in the class of the “Next Four” or Djokovic as an athlete, although he occasionally may sneak up on one of them with his big strokes and serve.

No Update On Nadal’s Status

No word has come out about another Nadal injury, and it may not, but Nadal obviously wasn’t his self in his straight-set loss to Berdych. Something was wrong. It was surprising that the TV analysts did not pick up on anything being wrong with Nadal until late in the match when Nadal appeared to be near the top of his game at times. The analysts were too busy heaping praise on Berdych’s play to notice that Nadal wasn’t energized in his normal style of play.

Berdych did look awesome at times against Nadal, but when an opponent doesn’t even attempt to run down shots that he normally would get to, something usually is wrong with the player when the player in question is Nadal. The Spanish great looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than Rod Laver Arena on the night Berdych broke his long losing streak to Nadal.

Of course, Berdych resorted back to his true form in the semifinals against Murray. Berdych just doesn’t seem to have the tenacity, intensity and focus to reach true elite status in the sport.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Compelling Matchups Scheduled All Around the Grounds on Thursday

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A look at the grounds of The All-England Club (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 4 play is headlined by top names such as Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Those names are all considerable favorites in their second round matches, so other matchups on Thursday’s schedule may be more compelling and competitive.  And with many of those encounters scheduled at the same time, multiple screens are recommended.

 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Filip Krajinovic (26) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Second on No.2 Court

Despite his usual poor behavior, Kyrgios survived in five on Tuesday against British wild card Paul Jubb, who is ranked outside the top 200 in the world.  But Nick is in strong form this month, with an 8-3 record on grass, having reached the semifinals of both Stuttgart and Halle.  Krajinovic is also in the midst of a strong grass court season, coming off a run to the final of Queen’s Club.  Like Kyrgios, he also required five sets to advance in the first round.  That was actually Filip’s first-ever win at SW19, as he was 0-4 prior to this fortnight.  Krygios leads their head-to-head 3-0 at all levels, though they haven’t played since 2015.  On grass, Nick’s formidable firepower should be plenty to prevail again over Filip, as long as he can maintain his composure.


Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Second on Court 12

On Tuesday, Andreescu achieved her first career victory at The Championships.  Bianca had only played five tour-level matches on grass ahead of this year, though she’s now 5-2 on grass this month.  Rybakina reached the fourth round of Wimbledon a year ago, but lost two of her three grass court matches coming into this event.  In their first career meeting, I give the slight edge to Andreescu based on recent form.  And while Elena has accumulated 22 wins this season, only four of them have come at Majors, and none of those four against a top player like Bianca.


Barbora Krejcikova (13) vs. Viktorija Golubic – Second on Court 18

This is only Krejickova’s fourth singles match since February due to an elbow injury.  Her opening round victory was her first since returning to the tour.  Golubic was a surprise quarterfinalist here a year ago, when she defeated both Danielle Collins and Madison Keys.  Yet she has not been able to follow-up on that result, as she has a losing record since that run.  They have split four previous meetings at all levels.  Their most recent clash occurred two years ago in Dubai, with Barbora prevailing 6-1, 6-2.  But her lack of match play, along with Viktorija’s grass prowess, make Krejcikova an underdog on this day.  While results on other surfaces have not followed, Golubic is now 13-7 on grass since last season, which includes a semifinal appearance earlier this month in Nottingham.


Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Katie Boulter (WC) – 1:30pm on Centre Court

Pliskova was the runner-up a year ago, losing the championship match to Ash Barty 6-3 in the third.  Unfortunately a hand injury forced her to miss the first two months of 2022, and she’s only 9-10 this season as a result.  Boulter is a 25-year-old Brit who pushed Aryna Sabalenka to three sets at last year’s event, and is 8-3 on grass at all levels this season.  And just like week, Boulter beat Pliskova on grass in Eastbourne 6-4 in the third.  Now can Katie repeat that result on her country’s most prestigious court?  She’ll certainly have the full support of the Centre Court audience, and her experience last year on this court could prove extremely valuable.  Considering Pliskova has only twice won back-to-back matches this year, an upset on Thursday feels entirely possible.


Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Jack Draper – Third on No.1 Court

This could easily become the most competitive show court match of the day.  And the British crowd will be vociferously behind Draper, especially late in the day on the tournament’s second biggest court.  Jack is a 20-year-old Brit who last year took a set off Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.  And he’s collected 31 match wins at all levels this season, which includes four Challenger titles as well as a semifinal run just last week in Eastbourne.  But de Minaur is also having a strong season.  The Australian has 25 wins, all at tour level, and was also a semifinalist in Eastbourne.  Both players won their first round matches in straight sets, so they’re surely feeling fresh and confident.  While Alex’s defensive skills will force Jack to strike some extra balls, Draper’s offensive weapons will be rewarded on this surface.  And the crowd’s encouragement may be the x-factor Draper needs to prevail.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Jordan Thompson – Tsitsipas prevailed in four sets on Tuesday, bringing his Wimbledon record to just 4-4.  He’s 1-0 against Thompson, who is only 8-12 this season at tour level.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Ricardas Berankis – Nadal is now 31-3 on the year, and seemed rather unbothered by his chronic foot injury in the opening round.  Earlier this season in Australia, he defeated Berankis in straight sets.

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (LL) – A victory for Swiatek on Thursday would be her 37th consecutive win, tying her with Martina Hingis for the longest women’s singles win streak across the past three decades.  Lesley is a 30-year-old ranked 138th in the world who at last year’s Wimbledon earned for first-ever main draw win at a Major by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Simona Halep (16) vs. Kirsten Flipkens – Halep is on an eight-match win streak at Wimbledon, dating back to her title run in 2019.  36-year-old Flipkens has said this will be her last-ever singles tournament.  She was a semifinalist here in 2013. 

Coco Gauff (11) vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu – Gauff scarcely survived the first round, overcoming Elena-Gabriela Ruse 7-5 in the third.  But Coco should be able to settle into the tournament from here, especially against Buzarnescu.  She’s currently 127th in the world, and on Tuesday won her first WTA-level match in nearly a year.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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WIMBLEDON: Bianca Andreescu blasts Canadian broadcasters for showing men’s over women’s coverage, and Nick Kyrgios could face fine

Bianca Andreescu and Nick Kyrgios made headlines at Wimbledon.

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Nick Kyrgios (@WeAreTennis - Twitter)

Kyrgios could face fine  

 

Tennis doesn’t always dominate the headlines and yesterday in the case of Bianca Andreescu and Nick Kyrgios, this was certainly the case.

What the former US Open champion posted on Instagram last night was very interesting.

Andreescu was referring to the fact that both Canadian men’s players Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime matches were being shown but not her own.

This meant her family and friends and fans struggled to support and watch her in action on Court 14.

The former world number four came through against American Emina Bektas 6-1, 6-3.

But her post raises the argument again that there is a gender bias in tennis and sport towards men’s coverage over women’s.

(Via Bianca Andreescu’s Instagram Story)

When the Canadian broadcasters could have shown one men’s match and one women’s match in a fair outcome.

As it happened, Shapovalov struggled but overcame Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech in five sets.

But Auger Aliassime was not so lucky as he lost to American Maxime Cressy in four sets.

Kyrgios loses his cool again

And how often have we seen fiery Australian Kyrgios lash out at spectators.

This happened again yesterday with the Canberra native spitting at a fan.

In a press conference afterwards, he admitted to the allegation.

“Of one of the people disrespecting me, yes. I would not be doing that to someone who was supporting me,” he said.

“I’ve been dealing with hate and negativity for a long time, so I don’t feel like I owed that person anything.

“He literally came to the match to not even support anyone really, just to stir up disrespect.

That’s fine. But if I give it back to you, that’s just how it is.”

The All England Club must now decide what action to take against Kyrgios with The Guardian reporting that they are considering fining the Australian.

But others believe this doesn’t go far enough and that being banned from the tournament would reflect the nature and severity of the incident, which has again given bad publicity towards Wimbledon.

It remains to be seen what action officials will take in a never-ending series of controversies that continue to beset the talented Aussie.

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WIMBLEDON: Day Two Talking Points as Rafa Nadal wins but Serena Williams falls agonisingly short

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams had contrasting results on day two of Wimbledon.

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Serena Williams (@USTA - Twitter)

Yesterday at SW19 again saw crowds flock to see the world’s most recognised tennis faces.

 

And it did not disappoint.

Contrasting comebacks for the sport’s stars

Two-time champion Rafa Nadal was playing at Wimbledon for the first time in three years.

And the Spaniard showed some majestic touches on his return to the surface.

He stormed into two sets to love lead against Argentina’s Francisco Cerúndolo, 6-4, 6-3.

But the Argentine fought back to take the third 6-3.

The crowd sensing an upset on the cards where cheering every time Nadal staved off some dangerous moments.

In particular, midway through the fourth as Cerúndolo was up 4-3 and had a sniff on the Spanish legend’s serve.

But he came through and went onto break the 23-year-old from Buenos Aires, and made no mistake in serving for the match.

6-4 in the fourth as the 22-time Grand Slam champion breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The win keeps alive his hopes of winning an unprecedented calendar Grand Slam after taking the Australian and French Open titles.

Meanwhile, for Serena Williams it wasn’t to be a fairytale comeback after a year away from the sport.

But she did play very well against an inspired Harmony Tan.

A nervous start saw the American surrender her serve. 

She then come back to lead in the opening set before losing it 7-5.

We then witnessed the Serena of old as she dominated the Frenchwoman to take it 6-1.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion then came out of the blocks fast in the third, forging a 3-1 lead.

But she was pegged back by the plucky Tan and it took some vintage Serena to seize the break, meaning the 40-year-old would serve for the match.

Some loose serves cost her the game and Serena was forced to save a match point as a final set tie-break was the only way to separate the two.

The tennis icon zoomed into a 4-0 lead and looked the likely winner but Tan again fought back with some sublime shots of her own.

In her first match on Centre Court and with such little Grand Slam pedigree, Tan continued to relish the big stage as she saw off some nerves to take the breaker 10-7 and the biggest win of her career.

This was arguably the match of the tournament so far.

Serena can hold her head up high as it was a strong performance and a couple of points here or there and we would have been talking about a stunning win.

Another good day for the Brits

More Brits are through to round two!

Jack Draper continued his impressive form as he saw off Zizou Bergs in straight sets.

The Belgian going down 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).

And Ryan Peniston, fresh from making the quarter-finals of Queen’s is also through.

He saw off Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen comfortably 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Katie Boulter beat Frenchwoman Clara Burel 7-5, 6-3.

And Heather Watson beat Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch 6-7 (7-9, 7-5, 6-2.

But British number two Dan Evans was left stunned after he lost to Australia’s Jason Kubler in straight sets 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.

Iga breaks Venus’ record

One stat that seemed to fly under the radar with Rafa and Serena taking all the headlines was Poland’s Iga Świątek breaking Venus Williams 35-match unbeaten run.

The pole extended her own streak to 36 with a convincing performance against Croatia’s Jana Fett.

The world number one opening Centre Court in style 6-0, 6-3.

There were also wins for 2019 champion Simona Halep, fifth seed Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa, Coco Gauff and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Grigor exits along with Sloane Stephens

Former semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov was forced to pull out injured after being a set up and 5-2 down in the second set against American Steve Johnson.

Whilst, former US Open champion Sloane Stephens slumped to China’s Qinwen Zheng 7-6 (7-1), 7-5.

And the oldest man in the draw, Feliciano Lopez who in doing so, equalled Roger Federer’s record of 81 main draw appearances at Grand Slams.

But the Spaniard lost in straight sets to Botic van de Zandschulp.

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